"Since when should church be nice?"
The Danville News
Robert John Andrews
Thursday, January 21, 2021
“A Nice Church”
Word Counts: 750
The church pulpit wasn’t my intention. When young, I had better ambitions. I felt called, instead, to serve in what my religious tradition regards as the noblest and highest calling a person can receive from God: to serve the public good in government. How? Become a Navy pilot, enter politics, become a senator. A good plan, until I heard Martin Luther King, Jr. preach, until I heard my pastors take a stand. Can you believe in the gospel without opposing oppression, injustice? We echo John Lewis’ “good trouble” mantra.
A different calling began calling me, for I came to realize how government can prevent you from lynching your neighbor but cannot make you love your neighbor. Jesus is my savior, not the state, howsoever vital is the state. So this week I thank those who voted for Biden. I guess that you who didn’t are now glad you lost.
Can’t we all just get along? No, we can’t. Not on our own. That’s a Presbyterian answer. Church, through ambassadors such as King, argues it remains “wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends” lest we end up, for instance, with assaults on our Capitol. Bad trouble. Do we really want America made in the image of Q conspiracy tantrum toddlers? In the image of those celebrating the Jewish holocaust? In the image of lynch mobs violent against those who disagree with them? Obviously, blue lives don’t matter to those MAGA. In the image of ‘we alone are right?’ In the image of christian nationalism? In the image of white supremacists carrying that flag of dishonor and infamy or waving their silly flag of their fearful leader? This is heroism? In the image of terroristic militia, brown-shirts by any other name, disloyal behind the lie of patriotism? The Capitol you claim as your house also is the house of my African-American son-in-law, and mine.
Veins of pain and anger, fear and bigotry, alienation and willful ignorance, lies and arrogance crisscross America. What happens to a house built on sand? I’ve addressed this problem often. Given recent events, whosoever relies on immoral means must regain America’s respect if they wish to be heard, supported, redeemed. Required: truth, contrition.
Myriad ways the church swims in the political pool. I’ve stood on court house steps and prayed. We encourage citizens to vote, more so, to get out there and hold office. “In God We Trust” says my dollar bill (all others pay cash…). The flag hangs in our sanctuaries. Since Reagan, our government sends an ambassador to the Vatican (we Protestants wonder how come we don’t get an ambassador too).
We’ve been meddling for centuries. Since when should church be nice? Nice means pleasing, a vague agreeableness. This word ‘nice’ originally meant ‘trivial, foolish.’ The church slogs hip deep in politics, for faith requires no namby pamby Jesus. This week I’m grateful to be chastened by how King reminded white moderate Christian liberals in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ that they have been “more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows… I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.” I’m proud when church “was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” Subtract moral religion from the equation and where’s the hope? That’s the church I love, until we become tyranny’s unholy cheerleaders or silent in the face of unjust laws, violence, inhumanity.
John Knox rebuked Queen Mary for repressing Protestantism. Was not Jonathan Witherspoon political when he preached from his Princeton pulpit about the necessity of freedom and American independence? Who opposed slavery as incompatible with humanity, despite the church’s own sins? Give thanks, for every major social progressive movement can claim religious inspiration. Who challenged Nazism as demonic? Pastor Bonhoeffer. Was not John Mackay, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, boldly loving the gospel when he stood among the first to defy Joseph McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities, naming his tactics un-American?
Was not Marin Luther King Jr. political when he led boycotts and marches? King, as a disciple of Jesus, knew who the enemy was. Never persons. Always ignorance, want, hateful ideologies, prejudice, the power to dominate and violate the humanity of others. “Hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness,” he preached, “and it is all a descending spiral ultimately ending up in the destruction for all and everybody.”
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The Donald Years -- columns from 2016 to 2020